- I'm used to getting games from independent publishers in anything
from a plastic bag to a video case to a plastic snap box. Darter
(Future Magic Games, 2004 - no designer credited) was of a different
breed, coming in a large cardboard container, with extremely high
quality bits. When the company contacted me about the game, I had
watched the flash demos of it on the net (http://www.dartergame.com)
and was impressed but was thinking that I would be getting a few
cardboard tiles, not the chunky wooden bits included with the game.
I give Darter two thumbs way up; it's one of the most enjoyable games
I've played in the last several months. It's simple, easy, yet
rewards logic; it's almost the reverse of Robo Rally and is of
tremendous high quality. Add in a pile of small variations to
gameplay, and you have a two-player game that's worth keeping. I've
played the game almost twenty times since receiving it and expect that
number to continue to rise over the year.
A large checkerboard is placed on the table, with four "darter"
pieces placed on four squares in the corners of the second innermost
ring - each darter facing one other in a clockwise pattern. Each
player places their base on any open spot on the board and then draw
four tiles - with the forty-two tiles remaining placed in piles near
the board. The object of the game is to get a darter to hit, thus
destroying the enemy's base. One player is chosen as the first
player, and the game begins.
On each turn, the two players each place a tile on the board. The
four darters are then all moved forward one square, which may be
affected by the tiles placed. Any tiles destroyed by the darters are
removed, and players draw another tile, preparing for the next turn.
One should note that the board "wraps" around, so that darters move
off one side and onto the other and can be affected by tiles that are
"adjacent" on the other edge of the board.
There are six "impact" tiles. These tiles are activated when a
darter moves onto them from one of their "active" squares - shown on a
player aid. If a darter moves onto them from any other direction, the
impact tile is destroyed. These tiles are:
- A wall, which reverses the direction of the darter hitting it from
any direction. After this, the wall is always destroyed.
- A 180 degree mirror, which reverses the direction of the darter
hitting it from two directions.
- A ninety degree mirror, which turns the darter ninety degrees when
it gets hit from two different directions.
- A three-way funnel, which takes the darter from three directions,
shooting it out the fourth direction.
- A two-way funnel, which is similar to the one above, except it only
accepts darters from two directions.
- An accelerator, which shoots a darter forward an extra space when
hit from two different directions.
There are five "proximity" tiles. These tiles are activated when a
darter moves into one of the "active" squares and have an effect on
them. If two or more proximity tiles both are pulling on the same
darter, a simple formula is used to see in which direction it goes.
Proximity tiles are destroyed if a darter ever hits them. The tiles
- A one way magnet - This pulls the darter that hits one of its two
active squares one space towards the magnet. A darter that is pulled
into the magnet destroys it.
- An all-way magnet - This is the same as above but has eight active
squares, two in each direction.
- A spring - This pushes the darter one space away from the spring
when the darter enters its single active square.
- A quarter crank - This rotates a darter ninety degrees around it.
- A half crank - This rotates a darter 180 degrees around it.
Finally, there is a special tile, the bomb that can only be placed in
the same square as a darter. It destroys itself and the four tiles
that are adjacent to the darter. All these tiles are removed before
the darters move.
There are a few more rules, such as dealing with an infinite loop, or
what happens when the tiles run out; but games usually end quickly
with one player's base being destroyed, giving the victory to the
Some comments on the game…
1.) Comments: Usually, I'm not pleased when a game comes packaged in
a tube, because it's often used as a gimmick. In this case, I think
it's a great choice; the huge cardboard tube is incredibly sturdy and
holds the components better than I would have imagined. The large
checkerboard is on a very nice, huge vinyl mat that rolls up well and
takes a lot of damage. The tiles themselves are large, thick wooden
tiles that have a side length of 1 1/2 inches. These, the wooden
darters, and the wooden pyramids that are the bases certainly drive up
the price, but they definitely give an A+ quality to the game and make
it more fun to play.
2.) Rules: The rules are on nine pages and include variants,
examples, and full color illustrations. Two two-sided player aids are
included, showing examples as to how the tiles affect the darters.
This, plus the rules, plus the online examples make rule snags very
rare, and I've had little to no trouble in explaining the game.
Sometimes it takes a couple of real life moves for a few players to
"get it", but even people who are turned off by the sheer logic
orientation of similar games (Ricochet Robot, etc.) find the game
3.) Logic: The simplicity is a sham, however, as the game actually
has some depth in it. Everything is straight-forward, with the only
luck being in the tiles that are drawn. The game can end in only a
few moves, so players have to be careful about every tile they place.
I've seen many games end quickly because players misjudge a tile that
an opponent has placed, thinking they are safe, not realizing that
another tile that can be placed (next turn) will devastate them. Even
worse, players (myself included) have often lost games because of
tiles that THEY'VE placed. Of course, since the games aren't too
long, everyone has a big laugh about this, and it starts over again.
Still, I think it's great how the game rewards clever placement and
punishes poor placement without being too evil, since games are short.
Complicated setups involving five or more tiles are possible, and
it's just neat to see how they all work together.
4.) Variants: There are many variants listed in the back of the book
- some of them significantly interesting enough for me to mention
- Multi-player - One can go online and order a four-player expansion
for the game, which might interest some people. I'm perfectly happy
with it as a two-player game.
- Ultimate - This splits the tiles between the two players, who then
choose any of their twenty-four tiles. This eliminates luck from the
game and is my favorite way to play, as long as my opponent doesn't
have analysis paralysis. Sometimes it is simply critical that a
player get a bomb tile, and this way the player always will.
- Preparations - This allows players to put four tiles on the board
before a game starts - kind of like a "quick start".
- Choices…Choices… - This allows a player to move only one darter per
player, instead of all four.
There are seven other variants - all of which are fairly interesting
and keep the game moving.
5.) Time: Because the game ends as soon as one darter reaches a base,
and there are four darters moving at once, a game can end as quickly
as two turns. I found this refreshing; it's almost as if we are
playing a board game equivalent to fencing - with a few quick key
moves, and then victory. Some games can last longer, taking even up
to a half hour; but most are short, deadly affairs. Because of the
speedy playing time, Darter can be played several times in a row and
makes for an interesting spectator game.
6.) Fun Factor: The speed of gameplay is alluring, but I simply like
the "machine" and logic aspects of the game. It's great fun to
maneuver the tiles towards the opponent's base, and winning is very
satisfactory. I said earlier that the game is the opposite of Robo
Rally - instead of controlling robots in an unchanging factory, the
factory changes around darters that don't. Darter has a simplicity
about it that is refreshing and makes for a tremendous abstract
If you are willing to pay the slightly higher price for the game (and
the components are definitely worth it!), then I can't recommend
Darter highly enough. It's fast, is of supreme quality, and will
appeal to people who love logic, and those who just like to move the
darters around. It's an ideal teaching game and even works as a
"filler" between heavier games - something I don't often characterize
an abstract strategy game as. While not as good as the classic
RoboRally, it has a nice charm about it and will hit my table many
more times this year!
"Real men play board games"